Manchester City came close to completing a sensational double deal for the Porto pair Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando in the January transfer window, only for the deal to fall through on deadline day. There’s no doubt their arrivals would have bolstered City’s squad and given the Citizens a better chance of winning silverware, so will they regret not landing them when all's said and done in May?
The most encouraging thing for City fans is that director of football Txiki Begiristain and manager Manuel Pellegrini once again identified the areas most in need of improvement.
In the summer, a chronic lack of width was addressed with the capture of Jesus Navas, who has impressed hugely and offered City a completely different option to what they had previously. They were very often too narrow last season, with little option to alter their style if Plan A failed.
The arrival of Navas and a switch in formation to 4-2-2-2 suddenly made width a characteristic of their play and they’ve been far more expansive because of it.
A lack of energy in midfield was also an issue for them last season and the club rectified that with the signing of Fernandinho, who has arguably been City’s player of the season thus far. He has excellent stamina and an ability to recover possession and kick-start attacks, and his arrival, perhaps more than anyone's, has improved the quality of their football.
And Alvaro Negredo has brought the physical presence City have long needed up front. For all their intricate passing and nice touches, they were lacking a powerful No. 9 to bully defenders and hold the ball up, but once again the club recognised the problem and delivered exactly the type of player they required.
Their summer transfer window went exactly to plan. It was swift and successful, leaving them with very few holes in their squad.
Extra midfield competition and a top-class partner for Vincent Kompany are about the only areas City still require reinforcements, and in Fernando and Mangala the club had outlined two ideal targets to address both positions.
Their overreliance on Yaya Toure and Fernandino has been evident all season, but it’s become particularly obvious in the last week with the Brazilian out of action with a thigh injury. Without his energy and range of passing, City failed to win the midfield battle against Chelsea in their first home defeat in the league this season and then struggled to break down Norwich in the goalless draw at the weekend.
Even before his setback, it was clear City were short in midfield. Toure and Fernandinho have played too many games, with Javi Garcia seemingly the first reserve when either has been rested. Garcia has improved this term, but still lacks the necessary pace and passing ability to excel in English football.
Fernando, an out-and-out defensive midfielder, would have gone a long way toward remedying the problem. He would have provided adequate cover for either of City’s first-choice midfield pair and given them the option of playing three players in the middle in tough away games.
He has been a regular for Porto since 2008—a key part of their 2010-11 treble-winning side. He screens the back four with his ability to spot danger and win tackles, and has forged a reputation as one of the most useful defensive midfielders around.
His teammate Mangala is one of the most highly sought-after players in Europe and would almost certainly have come straight into City's starting XI alongside Kompany. Matija Nastasic's poor form has seen City struggle for a solid partner for their captain and has too often looked shaky and unpredictable at the back as a result.
At 33, Martin Demichelis is certainly not a long-term option, and even in the short-term his lack of pace can be a worry. He reads the game brilliantly and the best in the air at the club, but he's been found wanting on a couple of occasions since he came into the side back in October.
Mangala is a quick and powerful 22-year-old who looks set to be a big star of the future. He moved to Porto from Standard Liege in 2011 and has since become known as the best young centre-half in Portugal. It wouldn't be a surprise, given his age and obvious quality, if City were to go back in for him in the summer.
It's clear that signing Mangala and Fernando would have given City depth all over the field and boosted their chances of winning trophies this season, but even without them they possess enough quality to be successful. Their excellent summer transfer activity means they have a strong and balanced squad and, although not perfect, it's arguably the best in the league.
They'll take some stopping their quest for silverware, even without Mangala and Fernando.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.
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